How We Went To Morocco For Less than $500
"You guys are always traveling!"
This is something both of us hear a lot. It invariably comes after we tell one of our friends or family about our plans for our next trip, or right after we have come back from a trip. Truth be told, we always wish we could travel more, but we understand that to many people we seem to always be jetting off to some new destination. The next part of this verbal dance is always the question of how we can afford it. On our recent trip, we spent two weeks trekking around Morocco and we managed to cover the cost of two round trip flights and hotels, all for less than $500! Seem impossible? Well read on to find out how we did it!
The Points Game
So first and foremost, if you are a frequent traveler and haven't gotten into the world of rewards points, then you are missing out on a gold mine! Our foray into that world began when we started reading up at The Points Guy's website. If you haven't heard of him, The Points Guy is a gentleman by the name of Brian Kelly who back in 2010 turned his love of travel into one of the most popular blogs for rewards travel. His website has a wealth of information and has a great guide for beginners who are interested in getting into the points game. It was here that we first began educating ourselves on how to get the most out of the various rewards programs and it is a great resource.
Normally, when you are trying to book rewards flights, you want to be as flexible as possible. This helps to give you availability on the carrier of your choice on the route you are attempting to fly. With our trip to Morocco we were somewhat hemmed in by scheduling issues, with Sheila having school commitments on the front and back side of the trip. This made it a bit of a challenge to find flights, but after some creative searching, we found a result.
Morocco is not the easiest of destinations to get to using points to book award flights. Most of the routes from the U.S. include a stopover in either London, Paris, Madrid, or Lisbon. In addition, most of the flights are operated on British Airways, who charge a huge fuel surcharge fee that negates using the points in the first place. In my points arsenal for this trip I had roughly 65k points in my American Airlines account that I had previously accrued and roughly 140k points in my Chase Ultimate Rewards account that I had earned as part of their massive sign up bonus for the Sapphire Reserve card.
When first starting to research how to get over to Morocco, I searched for flights going directly into either Marrakesh or Casablanca as those are the two best serviced airports from the United States. In searching on American, the points cost of a ticket would have been 40k points one way to fly to Africa due to the zone system they use for calculating rewards tickets. After some creative research though, I found that if I chose instead to fly into Madrid that the cost would only be 22.5k points as it was still considered off-peak and in the European zone. This did mean we would have to get from Madrid to Marrakesh, but with flights on Iberia only costing $75 one way, this was the best case scenario and meant we maximized our points usage with the final cost of each ticket being about $80 and using 20,250 points (I get another 10% back on redeemed rewards from American as a perk to having their Citi branded credit card).
On the return flight, it made the most sense to book directly from Casablanca back to Boston and found that Air France had flights on that route with a 12 hour stopover in Paris. We were able to take advantage of Chase's transfer program, which allows you to transfer point to one of their nine different airline partners at a 1:1 ratio, with Air France being one of those partners. The cost of a one way ticket from Casablanca to Boston was 25k points. The downside though, was that for some reason, the booking fee for the ticket was $250 per ticket. Normally, I would have tried to continue to search for a better option, as other Delta operated flights did have lower fees if we booked on a different date. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier we were somewhat inflexible on dates and because of this we decided that despite the high fee, that flight offered us a direct trip to our destination with the added benefit of the stopover in Paris and at a price that was still much lower than if we had paid cash for it, so we decided to book. So with both flights, we ended up paying roughly $340 per ticket round trip in fees.
When we were planning our trip, one of the experiences we definitely wanted to have while we were in Morocco was to stay in a traditional guest house, or riad, as the hospitality you enjoy is second to none. Luckily, many of the guesthouses are listed with the Chase online booking portal that you use to search for flights, hotels, and rental cars. Although often times it is better value to transfer Chase points to their partners, their online redemption portal is great if you need added flexibility since it allows you to book any open room or flight, rather than needing to find a date that is open for award availability through the company you are searching through. This allowed us to find some great deals with our trip including 5 nights in Marrakesh for 37,000 points, 4 nights in Fez for 27,328 points, and one night in Casablanca at a traditional hotel for 6,840 points. The only hotel stays we did pay for were one night in Chefchouen and one unexpected night in Ouarzazate that we needed while driving from Marrakesh to Merzouga. Between those two rooms the total cost was $150.
So in total, the cost for a round trip ticket and the hotel rooms for two weeks totaled $490. If you are confused about all that was outlined above, don't worry! We were definitely overwhelmed when taking in the sheer volume of information and also the processes that go into searching for rewards based itineraries. Rest assured though, that if you love to travel, rewards points are one of the best ways to be able to travel more often and for less money. Make sure to check out the links to The Points Guy above to get yourself into the game and earning free flight and hotel rooms in no time!